New York City — The Yale football team entered Friday night’s game against Columbia having forced just five turnovers in its first six games. But under the lights at the Robert K. Kraft Field, the Bulldogs came out snarling, forcing four turnovers in the first half alone en route to a 31–23 victory over the Lions.
Takeaways proved to be the difference for the Elis (2–5, 2–2 Ivy), who won the turnover battle 5–0 in their second conference win of the season. Yale scored 14 points off the takeaways, including a 61-yard fumble return by defensive end John Herubin ’18. The Yale defense as a whole played its best game of the year, holding Columbia (2–5, 1–3) scoreless for the first three quarters of the game.
“Everything we put out on the field is a product of our work, whether in the film room or practice,” defensive back Jason Alessi ’18 said. “It was the first time this season we put it all together for almost all four quarters. We came out with a lot of energy and once [quarterback] Kurt [Rawlings ’20] came in, it helped us even more.”
The Eli defense gave up the fewest yards of its season on Friday night, with most of them coming in the fourth quarter. Yale surrendered just 183 yards in the first three quarters before the Lions scored 23 points on 202 yards in the final 15 minutes.
Yale’s offense fed off the defensive dominance. Rawlings, who had just eight pass attempts all season, replaced Tre Moore ’19 at the start of the second quarter. The freshman would play the remainder of the game, throwing for 152 yards and three touchdowns — as many as Moore had in four games under center. Rawlings also showcased his mobility, totaling 46 rushing yards on five attempts, with a long of 38.
The decision to keep Rawlings in action may have been more a gameflow decision than an emergency swap. While Moore had connected on just one of his four passing attempts, the offensive struggles in the first period resulted more from an inability to protect the sophomore, who was sacked three times.
“We had two good quarterbacks who could have played tonight,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We thought it was time to go with Kurt, who had been playing well all week. He had a good preseason and sometimes you make those decisions as a head coach and go with your gut instinct. [Putting Rawlings in] was my gut instinct.”
Rawlings was not the only freshman to make major contributions: running back Alan Lamar ’20 and wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 led in yards from scrimmage and receiving yards, respectively. Though Lamar entered the season fourth on the depth chart, the powerful Mississippi native is currently the team’s leading rusher. He added a 106 yards to his season total, including a 25-yard run in the fourth quarter. And in his seventh career game, Klubnik led the Bulldogs with five catches for 52 yards.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback next week, the Yale offense still has room to grow, as the unit put up just 249 total yards against Columbia. Injuries have continued to plague the Elis this year, as the offense still awaits the return of wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18. Williams-Lopez was on track to repeat as the team’s leading receiver until Week 4, when he suffered an ankle injury and missed the subsequent three games.
Defensively, Yale benefitted from the return of cornerback Marquise Peggs ’19, who snagged a third-quarter interception in his first game since Week 2. Linebacker Victor Egu ’17 and cornerback Dale Harris ’17 both forced Columbia fumbles, while Alessi continued his career-long success against the Lions. In his three career games against Columbia, the junior has three interceptions and a punt-return touchdown.
“Our secondary played really well and the linebackers were hitting the gaps and forcing fumbles,” Herubin said. “We were getting some pressure on the defensive line. It was an all-around effort.”
After Herubin’s fumble return got Yale on the board, Rawlings found wide receivers Myles Gaines ’17 and Robert Clemons III ’17 in the endzone on consecutive possessions. Tight end Leo Haenni ’17 hauled in the final score, which came on third down in the red zone.
Columbia had a chance to make things interesting near the end after a touchdown with 19 seconds left brought the game within eight points, but the Lions failed to recover their ensuing onside kick, stamping the win for the Bulldogs.
“I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Reno said. “You could sense it on the sideline. We need to have that killer instinct to finish the opponent off.”
Yale will look to notch consecutive wins for the first time this season as it travels to Providence next Saturday to take on a vulnerable fifth-place Brown team.